“my gender feels like”

This piece was created for the last show of Season 19 of Tuesday Night Cafe, as part of a set called “they/them femmes & friends,” featuring Kyla, Mya, Navor, Opulence, and me!

Our show bio: “they/them femmes & friends is a collaboration of trans+intersex artists of color who use they/them pronouns. Though we share pronouns, our genders are as diverse as our spirits, and we’re excited to share a glimpse with you tonight. This set also features a slideshow* of gender affirming photos, art, and selfies by people who use they/them pronouns.”

* I didn’t get permission to share the photo slideshow beyond the Tuesday Night Cafe space, but will ask for it at some undetermined point in the future. Seeing the beautiful joy of comrades projected into a community space that feels like home to me felt like the spiritual healing that comes with truly being seen.

Thank you to Navor for allowing me to share this (cropped) image below. Please contact Navor for the full-size image and do not use or share without permission.

Navor_Lotus flows above

“Lotus Flows Above, Let Us Float Above” [Image description: Three lotuses sit on lily pads as they float on reflections of worlds that carry them with leaves surrounding their existence and two brown hands stretching towards the direction of prayers and calls for peace. Gradient colors of pink, purple, orange, green, black and white are present in this healing formed by hands.]

Mya
My gender feels like an uncomfortable silence.

Audrey
my gender feels like
something too visible and unseen all at once

Opulence
my gender feels like a cloud before the storm

Navor
my gender feels like
a brown nonbinary babe wearing a velvet dress and their mothers top

Kyla
my gender feels like queer futurity

Mya
My gender feels like an uncomfortable silence.

In Japanese animation there are frequently pauses,
without dialogue or music,
that make American audiences…uncomfortable.

Studio Ghibli movies,
when dubbed,
have their silences erased, replaced by sound effects
or conversation
or explanation

They say,
silence makes us uncomfortable …

Audrey
my gender feels like
something too visible and unseen all at once

wading through an ocean of she
sir, sir, this is the women’s room

what can I get for you ladies
brothers and sisters
ladies and gentlemen
i am in the liminal nowhere in between

feels like target in the bathroom
feels like holding it in
deciding not to drink water
— even though I love drinking water

Opulence
my gender feels like a cloud before the storm;
an acorn collected, carried, buried, and forgotten.

An emerald held in the earth; a bird in a storm.

My gender feels like a clump of hair,
a satisfying sneeze.

My gender is a grain of mucus covered sand on its way to becoming a pearl
my gender is a ruby, a yellow hued sapphire, a mistake in a chemical composition

Navor
my gender feels like
a brown nonbinary babe wearing a velvet dress and their mothers top
reminiscent of baro’t saya

they, them, theirs sit so gracefully on a wooden stool asking themselves if their moms looked like this, if their fathers approved of this, if past lovers who hovered wanted this, if strangers were ever asked to change their name to sound more like them [1] – to be read more like them [1] – if i’ve become more like them [1] // because they want to survive like their indigenous-native and ilokano-pangasinan ancestors but not adopt the ways that have erased a type of healing nor assimilate into a settler-colonial practice. // as they end their gaze, they blink with promise to always ever resist because….. i have always wanted this.  Footnotes: [1] them (T͟Hem,T͟Həm/) – Spaniards & Amerikkkans, cis-white-hetero-ablebodied-men

Kyla
my gender feels like queer futurity,
a term coined by José Esteban Muñoz.
in his words and theory,
“we may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality”
in my own words that means
my gender feels like holding a future within me
that doesn’t yet exist
my gender feels like a work in progress
hands with chipped pink nail polish
shaping earth,
planting seeds
for a future
where my gender
can flourish.

Audrey
like I have only ever been trying on things that don’t fit
no, I don’t want to be a boy
and I have never been your daughter
though I have always been your daughter

and it still moves me to call myself,
in a secret, quiet voice,
a queer woman of color

it still moves me to think of
the women ancestors
who could hardly imagine me, girlchild, living with so much freedom

Mya
When they ask me, what is your gender?
I say that I’m
transgender,
nonbinary,
& agender (that means without gender)

that we each make our own definition of the word,
that I never understood that internal sense of gender so many of us are supposed to have
that I grew up…
uncomfortable

Opulence
my gender feels like hot lava regurgitated by the earth; held down and pressed into something beautiful

Audrey
feels like getting to a comrade’s home after a long day
and taking off my chest binder
nipples out, still they

Kyla
feels like a childhood spent yearning for the gentle flame of a candle
my gender feels like a chrysalis ready to burst free

Opulence
my gender is uncontainable, hot and fluid. my gender is a whisper and a scream
the tattoo I don’t remember getting.

Kyla
my gender feels like warmth–warm hugs, warm sweaters, warm faces

my gender feels like floating in a tide of clear water, not knowing where it will take me next

Navor
my gender feels like abolition not reform
feels like more than one LGBTQIA+ themed night during the year

Audrey
feels like fuck an “LGBTQ” org
that can’t bother to use my pronouns correctly

Opulence
my gender is a gift to my ancestors, a silent thank you I see from the other side of the closet door
my gender holds space, opens hearts makes room.

Audrey
feels like no more questions about
whether being trans is a choice
which bathroom
which danger

Navor
feels like recognition that mental health deserves more than one day
how suicide prevention is not out of the darkness
but out of the whiteness
because lightness has done nothing for brown and black femmes

Opulence
my gender feels expansive, a field of wheat; an endless flame
my gender feels abundant; clearing; like  dr. bronner’s peppermint soap; eucalyptus chapstick

Audrey
my gender feels like affirmations given freely
like a rib cage around my tenderness
just enough holes for love to pour through

Opulence
my gender feels like femme fire, like Durga’s hungry smile, weapons raised
my gender is unrelenting; like the birds feasting on prometheus’ liver.
my gender feels like me 🙂

Mya
What I wish I could say is
“my gender is absent”
And let silence speak for the rest.

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Poem recognize poem

Oh, hey there. It’s good to see you again. I really appreciate the feedback on the last post; it’s led to a lot of great follow-up conversations, and I can’t begin to quantify the healing power of knowing that I can surround myself with people who understand both the stakes and complexities of social justice issues.

This post is decidedly more upbeat, as it’s about the joys of that surrounding effect — definitely a related topic. Whereas the last post was all about the distinction between being nice (and/or polite) and being good, it is quite nice to know that I get to spend a hearty chunk of my time with nice, polite, wonderful — and good — people, working for, toward, and through social justice.*

Last night I stage managed Tuesday Night Cafe (time-lapse!),  fulfilling a decade-long dream of getting to introduce myself to people as “stage manager.”** I suppose I could introduce myself as anything, to anyone. And maybe I will. Anyway, it was a fantastic experience, learning and otherwise. I particularly enjoyed the moment where we were in our pre-show circle and I realized that one of the artists was missing — you know, one of those minor details that just magically works itself out. (He showed up, like, two minutes later.) This was our second collaboration with Common Ground, an excellent group of excellent people.

Look at all these beautiful artists! Posing post-show on May 1 in the JACCC courtyard. Sorry this is such an obvious FB screen cap. Not fixing it! Photo by Steven Lam.

As I was sitting back and soaking in the third set, Claudia (a totally dope poet, check her out with Duende!) caught me off guard by dedicating her second poem to me, because it was inspired by one of my poems. I will note that this is not a humble brag — it was an entirely humbling and inspiring moment, and it was exactly what I needed after all of the nonsense I mentioned in my previous post.

Two posts ago, I wrote about how excited I’ve been to be around live poetry and music, and to be spending chunks of time with artists who constantly surprise and challenge and inspire me. Two Wednesdays ago, I came home from a MidTones Open Jam at Bar Nirvana, and I could not go to bed because I was so excited about how excited I was to be alive at that moment in the exact place where I am  in my life, having spent the day working at a nonprofit I love, followed by a meeting with the aforementioned surprising/challenging/inspiring artists, followed by a couple of hours of musicians rocking out and having fun. (I will also admit that I realized, “Wow, my life right now is cooler than I thought it would be.”)

Anyway, long digression. Back to poems. Also a few weeks ago, I was at LAnguage, a spoken word show at The Last Bookstore curated by Mike the Poet (co-curated that Sunday by Traci Kato-Kiriyama, of Tuesday Night-founding fame), and a bunch of poets I admire were reading poems about their fathers.***

As Traci was reading “Rain,” I started scribbling a few lines of what I hope will some day grow up to become a deeply personal account of my relationship to my own father. Right now it’s an awkward teenager and doesn’t want you to look at it. Unfortunately for poem, I need to share this part of it:

Two of my favorite poets read about their fathers today
with words that reached straight into some part buried within me
striking chords
reminders
echoes

I panicked for a moment, felt guilty

When you go, what pieces of you will I hold tight to?

Claudia’s poem includes the stanza (among other, excellent stanzas, which I have! Because she let me keep the copy she read last night!):

I told my mom I heard a poem once
About a girl who was ashamed to be ashamed of her culture
I told her I felt like that was me
That’s why we have to keep it alive, she said
That’s why I still practice this language with you
This isn’t the same poem, but
Today my heart will send a postcard to my mother
Because love and apologies transcend these zip code barriers

The last three times I saw Claudia perform, I a) wanted to call people up and say, “Hey you need to see this!” and b) wished desperately that I had a teleporter so I could whisk people in to experience it for themselves. This time, I was just trying to keep it together, not just because I was moved by her dedication, but also because there is something profound about having another person articulate the secret parts of yourself that you are still searching for.

Art is a bridge, and a mirror, and a whole host of other metonyms about seeing self and others and connecting. It is also, wonderfully, a catalyst for change, dialogue, questioning, and more art. I have said it before, and I will say it again. I am so damn lucky to get to be part of this community of artists. Thank you for reminding me that I love people.

* I apologize that I keep lumping together complex, intersecting issues under the broad umbrella of “social justice,” without having really defined how I’m using it and my own relationship to the term. Topic for another post. (“Topic for another post” being a strong contender for tagline to this blog.)

** Once, in high school, I was offered a stage manager role for the spring musical, but then the drama teacher found out that I was also in mock trial. Sigh, art and law — never the twain shall sit down for a cup of coffee and hash out their differences.

***(Hey, also, you should buy Cara Van Le’s “A Roof & Some Refuge.” I can’t find a public link and don’t want to post her contact info sans permission, but maybe if you think really hard about chapbooks, she will appear in front of you with one in hand. Ordering information!)

Number of tabs opened while writing this post: 15. Number of references I decided to save for another post: 2.